|Eaton Hall, so named for its principal benefactor A. E. Eaton, first served on the Willamette campus as the college of Liberal Arts Building. It was the first major building constructed after Waller Hall in 1867, and marked the beginning of major growth in the college. Abel E. Eaton came to Oregon from New Hampshire in 1862, settling in northeastern Oregon. He farmed and also invested in several businesses, his most prosperous venture being the Union Woolen Mills located in Union. He was a prominent Methodist and in 1907 pledged $50,000 toward the construction of a new building on the Salem campus. The building was greatly admired; the following quote is taken from the 1909 University catalog: "Eaton Hall, the new college of Liberal Arts building, is the most beautiful public building: in Salem. It is built of red pressed brick and gray stone. The arrangement of the interior and the method of heating are thoroughly modern. It is a great addition to the educational buildings of Oregon".
Willamette University grew from the early Methodist Missionary school called the Oregon Institute. The Methodist Mission in Oregon lasted ten years, from 1834 to 1844, at which time the property was divided among the missionaries and a three-story frame building which had been constructed as an Indian Manual Labor School was told to nine trustees of the "Oregon Institute." The building was then put to use as a school, encompassing mostly elementary students under the guidance of Mrs. Chloe Clark Willson, wife of one of the trustees. Tuition was charged, $24 per year, and by 1849 the Institute had 36 primary and 42 advanced pupils. In 1852 the curriculum was broadened to include some college preparatory courses.
While meeting in Willamette University's one building, Oregon's Territorial Legislature issued a charter to Willamette University in 1853, making it one of the oldest universities on the West Coast. College classes began in 1855, it granted its first degree in 1855. Costs were paid by tuition and the sale of lots in the township of Salem.